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Occupational hazard – a protest that had run its course

2012 February 28
by Paul Vallely

The ending of the camp by outside St Paul’s Cathedral is timely. It was an important protest. It was loud, scruffy and angry. But embedded in the deeply incoherent messages sprayed out by the different factions of the movement was a core truth which spoke directly to the public. It clamoured against the profound unfairness of a world where the price for the hubris of bankers is paid by ordinary people who bore little or no responsibility for the global financial crisis and recession. It was a protest against a world where the rich get bonuses and avoid taxes and the poor lose their jobs and have their benefits cut.

Having said that, the point had been well made and it was difficult to see what was being served by the continued presence of the camp which has cost taxpayers more than £600,000 over the 137 days of the demonstration. By the end the unhappy campers with their cardboard graffiti, cooking stoves and waste disposal problems were merely hampering the daily work of the cathedral rather curbing than the forces of unfettered capitalism which was their original target. The longer it went on the more it seemed merely a self-indulgence for the tented ones and their anarchic philosophy of permanent revolution.

“This is only the beginning,” the protestors cried as their encampment was torn apart. That is right. But the beginning had run its course. If the Occupy movement is to offer anything more than a leftist equivalent to the knee-jerk right-wing activism of the conservative Tea Party movement in the United States it needs to work out how to translate protest into policy. What is needed now is thinking to put in place workable regulatory curbs on the excesses of an uncontrolled free market which has a systemic bias towards the powerful and against the poor.

The debate on how we put in place a more responsible form of capitalism is a vital one to the future of 21st century politics. But it will demand more than slogans shouting down with corporate greed. And it will require a forum a good deal wider than the small pavement between the nation’s cathedral and the shops which surround it. That offers a metaphor. But real change will involve the realpolitik of a politics beyond protest.

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